Cows in Vermont are on a new diet that is aimed at making people and the planet more healthy.
In a move to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions Stonyfield Farms has launched the Greener Cow pilot program in conjunction with 15 organic farms that supply the milk for Stonyfield's yogurts. The program started by putting 74 cows on a diet that consisted of less corn and soy based feeds and more flaxseed and alphalpha which are closer to the spring grasses that cows naturally eat.
Normally Cows are grass grazing animals, however this grass is seasonal and not idea for year round production. Global demand for dairy and beef has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and to meet the demand, farmers started feeding their cows corn and soy. The result has been more gaseous cows that are burping up considerable amounts of the greenhouse gas Methane.
In 2006 the United Nations study reported that globally, livestock account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. While less abundant than CO2, Methane has 23 times the warming ability. According to the study, the livestock industry accounts for 37% of all human induced Methane, and changing their diets is an important way to curb this.
The cows have been on this Green Mountain diet since January of this year and they are already reporting positive results. As of mid May, the farmers are reporting an average reduction in the cows' methane emissions of 12% and reductions as high as 18%. They have also found that the new diet not only inclreases milk production, the milk has higher concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids (good) and lower concentrations of saturated fat (bad).
Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield is very excited about the results so far:
"This is a watershed moment for the US dairy industry... By changing the feed we give our cows, we can simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve milk's nutritional content in a way that may help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity."
Hirshberg said they plan to make the official results of the program available to other interested dairy farms by late summer. As always I'm impressed with the work Stonyfield is doing but I wonder if this program can go beyond the dairy industry. If the diet continues to be effective in curbing harmful emissions maybe we could put Rush Limbaugh on the diet.
Photo Source: Flickr